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Lifestyle & Trends: Celebs Back Jena Six


And now, from inside Capitol Hill to Hollywood and where the two mix. Celebrities are wading into the Jena 6 case; Shaq wants his records back; and hip-hop goes to Washington.

Here to fill us in on it all, Newsweek entertainment correspondent Allison Samuels.


Ms. ALLISON SAMUELS (Entertainment Correspondent, Newsweek): Hey, how are you doing?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. So Jena Six, David Bowie gives $10,000 to the defense fund. Mos Def is planning a benefit concert. Who else has spoken out or given money?

Ms. SAMUELS: Ice Cube actually sponsored four buses to go down from Los Angeles to Louisiana, and he paid for hotel rooms for all the people who actually attended. And he, actually, took his family. He thought it was very important to take his children, in particular, so they could actually see, you know, basically where we are. He feels like we're going backwards. And he was pretty vocal about that when I interviewed him. He was very, you know, distressed at what was happening to our children and what can be done without anyone actually seeming to care. So he definitely put his, you know, money where his mouth was.

CHIDEYA: A lot of times celebrities are accused of being sort of fake leaders or the people who shouldn't be invested with any kind of public standing. In this case, do you think people stepped up and really learned about the issues?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think so. I think as Ice Cube said, this is our children. I think for some, you know, for that reason when you see teenagers being mistreated, it takes on a different - it takes on just a sort of different meaning because you realize those are the most vulnerable people in our community.

And I also have to mention that I think a lot of radio shows like Michael Baisden - I have to give him credit - he really stepped up. He really preached about Jena Six and made it something that people who hadn't heard about made it a priority in their sort of daily conversation. So I think it's a combination of those things.

CHIDEYA: So you have celebrities getting into this whole arena of activism and then you have hip-hop on Capitol Hill.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: Hip-hop is sick because America is sick, that's what rapper David Banner told Congress this week. He and Master P went before the House Consumer Protection Subcommittee - that's fascinating. Anyway…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: …it's been holding hearings on the…

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: …impact media has on American culture. When I hear something like House Consumer Protection Subcommittee…

Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah.

CHIDEYA: …I'm thinking, like, is the Tupperware safe for the microwave.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right. Right. Right. (Unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Is Master P safe for children's ears? How did this roll out?

Ms. SAMUELS: You know, actually, I admired Master P because he apologized to women for a lot of the degrading things that he had said on his own albums and for what was being said now.

David Banner, I think, took more of the youthful approach of, you know, this is America's problem, so it's our problem. And, you know, on some level, that's true. No one can sort of argue that America doesn't have these issues. But I think that, you know, we definitely have to deal with our own community and think about ourselves. And I think that's what Master P was sort of stressing that he has reached the age when he understands that this is a problem.

And a lot of rappers who, like LL Cool J, if you talk to him, he's very clear that he has daughters, he has nieces, that he's seen the impact of these negative words and wants to make a change. But I think as long as you have that younger generation who hasn't, you know, who don't have children, who don't - who aren't old enough to understand what this means, you're going to still have these sort of controversies.

But I sort of appreciate that they were able to go up there and talk about it. I think it puts a spotlight on it that makes hip-hop sort of think twice, which is, I think, what needs to happen.

CHIDEYA: There's something else about this. Bobby Rush - former Black Panther - has been sharing the hearings. Is that a strange loop of history?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think it is. It's interesting, I mean, the bad part is I don't know, particularly with David Banner, I mean, how familiar is he with the whole history of that. So I think that's the interesting part of it is that it's, like, two, you know, sort of two parts of history sort of coming together, which, I think has made this fascinating. I mean, it was fascinating to follow and interesting to sort of hear both of them, Master P and, you know sort of David Banner give their different perspectives.

CHIDEYA: Why don't you show us in on the latest in the Biggie Small's case? His family filed a suit against the city of L.A., and now there is a witness who has basically recanted.

What exactly is going on there?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, he's saying because, you know, Biggie Small's - Notorious B.I.G - his family won a big settlement, and part of it was because this witness said that the LAPD was involved in the murder of Notorious B.I.G.

But I think now he's retracting his statement, saying that it wasn't true. But I think we all have to keep in mind he's in jail, so anything - there's no telling what type of pressure was put on him to sort of retract that. And the LAPD is not necessarily known for being above board. So I think this is all incredibly shady.

And I think the saddest part is it - of it is that we're probably never going to find out what happened to B.I.G. We're never going to find out who killed Tupac. Those are mysteries that, I think, just won't be solved because there's so much - there's so many political things going on with both of them, and there's a lack of concern. And I think there's a certain amount of crookedness behind both of them that I just think aren't going to be, you know, it's not going to be answered - those questions.

CHIDEYA: Is the family of Biggie Small speaking out about this?

Ms. SAMUELS: Oh, they're denying because, you know, the guy is also saying - the witness is also saying that his family - Biggie's family - asked him to lie. And, you know, they are outraged about that because, obviously, that puts a very negative light on them.

So their lawyer, you know, the mother's lawyer has certainly come out and said, you know, no, this is not true. This man spoke freely and basically came to us and said this is what happened. So again, you just - you can't tell what's true and what's not true. I think it's all very shady. But the LAPD - I just don't put anything past them. So…

CHIDEYA: It's amazing how much time has passed…

Ms. SAMUELS: Yeah.

CHIDEYA: …since those two murders really rocked the hip-hop world. People who are younger fans of hip-hop, do you think that they have a veneration? I mean, there's definitely - Biggie and Tupac are venerated by many people but what about people who were, like, 18? What do you think?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think that, you know, both of them, and particularly Tupac, I think, have this, you know, iconic status that - where they romanticize what happened, and they don't necessarily understand, you know, the actual - the sadness of what, you know, what actually happened to the two of them, and also that it was over a beef.

I think that's the thing that I think a lot of people talked about with the Kanye-50-Cent thing. It was a beef. And I'm like, no, that's not a beef. You know, Tupac and Biggie had a beef and it ended up very negatively for both, I mean, they both died. But I think the younger kids just sort of put them on pedestals. Love their music, but I don't know if they totally understand the drama that was Tupac and Biggie, and how, basically - you know, again, those are puzzles that are never going to be solved. We're never going to know what happened to, you know, to cause their deaths.

CHIDEYA: Give us a very quick update on what's happening to Shaq. I saw him on "Cribs" recently, riding a segue around the halls of his house. What's happening to his home?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, you know, he's getting a divorce. And I think the most interesting thing is that he asked for a full accounting of all of his wife's accounts. And there are various rumors going around. I'm not sure exactly, but the most dominant rumor is that she had a lover and bought her lover a house with his money.

So I figured that it was something intense because, you know, Shaq has lots of money, so I figured, if he wants to see accounting, it has to be a lot of money that was actually taken.

CHIDEYA: Well, Allison, thanks for this tour de force.

Ms. SAMUELS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Allison Samuels is a national correspondent for Newsweek magazine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.